• Tricia Karp

What makes a relationship last - part 4

(Did you miss the previous posts in this series? You can find part 1 here and part 2 here and part 3 here. Never want to miss an article? Make sure you sign up to receive new articles and podcast episodes every week)

Manage conflict well

I want to set this straight from the get go: Happy couples fight.

In itself, conflict isn’t “bad” or “wrong.” It’s how you approach and handle it, and what you do afterwards, that can destroy a relationship.

Happy couples focus on reconnecting after a fight, and that’s a difficult thing to do.

There’s so much I could write about conflict, and I expect I will in future (if you want to find out more about doing it well I already share regularly about it on social media).

For now, I want to make a few suggestions on what managing conflict well looks, sounds and acts like:

  • Approaching conflict as a learning opportunity. It’s a chance to learn more about your partner and their perspective on whatever you’re fighting about

  • Avoiding criticising your partner, being defensive, shutting down, or being contemptuous. These behaviours lead to disconnection at best, and the ending of relationships at worst

  • Listening to your partner. Really being present and listening to their perspective

  • Accepting influence from your partner. Do they have a point? If so, acknowledge it and tell them that

  • Taking responsibility for your own behaviour and self-soothing when your emotions are starting to feel too much or getting out of control

  • Speaking in a calm, kind and respectful way. If you’re not, then notice that, and know how to change your behaviour so that the conflict doesn’t escalate

  • Making attempts to repair, or reduce conflict that does escalate

  • Not fighting to “win.” Choosing to put the health of your relationship first rather than the need to be “right"

  • After the fight is over, practising forgiveness, and focusing on emotionally reconnecting with your partner. This can be the hardest thing to do and will likely feel uncomfortable – and it’s essential

Emotional disconnection damages relationships and leads to their downfall – not fighting.

What’s your relationship with conflict? Do you avoid it or go all in? Are you calm, kind and respectful? Do you get angry? Do you say hurtful things? Do you focus on reconnecting afterwards?

What could you do differently to manage conflict better?

Have a positive perspective

How do you see your partner?

Does the thought of your partner, when you’re not together, make you smile and feel positive?

Or do you think about your partner in negative ways, and reflect on all the things they do that you don’t like?

The bottom line: Do you see your partner through a positive or negative lens?

It matters because having a positive perspective of your partner and relationship helps you to resolve problems during conflict more effectively.

Seeing your partner in a more positive light is something you can work on every day. If you often focus on the negative, you risk seeing positive and neutral experiences as negative, and don’t give your partner the benefit of the doubt. That’s a downward spiral that won’t serve your love.

Here are a few ways to maintain a positive perspective:

  • Allow your partner to influence you. Be interested in their opinions on issues you’re having in your relationship. Believe they have something important to say and listen to them. Don’t try to convince your partner to see things your way all the time

  • Grow your admiration and fondness for your partner. What’s at least one thing you appreciate about your partner or something they did? Tell them. How are they adding to your life? What do they contribute? Show gratitude for all of this

  • Turn towards your partner’s bids for emotional connection (more on this below)

Where do you sit on the positive/negative spectrum? Is there work to do to shift towards more positivity?

Turn towards your partner

Research shows that there’s a magic ratio that couples share in healthy, meaningful and satisfying relationships. They “turn towards” their partner 5:1 times.

That means that when their partner wants to connect with them, five times out of six they’ll respond positively to their bid for connection.

What does it look like?

Making eye contact, smiling, or responding with validation for something your partner said. Asking open-ended questions to deepen conversations, such as “What are your feelings about doing that?” and listening with presence and interest.

When you turn towards your partner, you’re engaging with them and letting them know you value them and what they have to say.

How do you go with turning towards your partner? What ratio are you operating at? Could you do better?


Does your relationship need support to thrive? Visit here to find out about working with Tricia Karp, including private sessions, group programs, workshops and retreats

Photo by Alysa Bajenaru